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Suppliers Dance to Beat of More Complex Industry

Suppliers Dance to Beat of More Complex Industry

In-store execution. Strength of brand and assortment. Tying into consumer trends. Innovation.

The list goes on.

Suppliers are asked to bring more to the table than ever before in their relationships with retailers. That's certain to make a few suppliers nostalgic for the days when interactions were simpler and limited to a smaller number of activities, such as category management. Nostalgia aside, the best of today's partnerships go much deeper and are more meaningful.

In this issue, SN spotlights today's more complex relationships in presenting its supplier Category Excellence Awards. SN identifies manufacturers that are meeting retailer needs and the reasons they are best-of-class. The winners were chosen by our editors based on feedback from retailers, who voted via a survey and participated in interviews. You'll see that SN also outlines the reasons each supplier was chosen, all of which relate to the growing support needs of retailers. Retailer feedback was supplemented by survey and interview responses from other industry participants.

You'll find on Page 20 a guide to reading the stories and rankings. Gold or Silver awards were presented to 55 suppliers in some 28 categories spanning Center Store, Fresh Market and Nonfood.

Retailers quoted in stories throughout this issue explained how supplier efforts are really making a difference. “Campbell's helped bring together all the people in our organization required for something of this magnitude,” said one retailer about the CPG company's workshops that focus on meal-merchandising strategies. “They brought unique and objective insights about the solution, as well as a lot of energy that helped keep momentum going over a period of several months. I'm not sure what would have happened if we tried to do this ourselves.”

How has the overall ability of suppliers to serve retailer needs changed in the past year or two? A recent SN survey of trading partners found some disagreement on that topic. Some 71% of suppliers cited improved performance from the manufacturer community, while only 44% of retailers felt the same way. Moreover, only 9% of suppliers said manufacturer performance has declined, vs. 35% of retailers who cited a drop.

There were also differences in priorities among trading partners. Our survey asked what are the most important initiatives for suppliers to be working on now. Those that scored highest among both retailers and suppliers included new product innovation and health and wellness. Retailers were far more bullish than suppliers about the topic of SKU reduction, with 57% of retail respondents considering it a high priority, vs. 29% of suppliers. Opinions also differed on sustainability, which 65% of suppliers labeled a top initiative, compared with 44% of retailers.

Despite varied perspectives, there is something everyone can agree upon: Retailers and suppliers are working harder in their relationships. That trend will only intensify as retailers demand more customized support from their trading partners.